Standing in my hallway looking at my luggage all packed and I know that at that moment that the rest of the EDA team are well and truly on their way to Malaysia. On my way to the airport four hours earlier I received an urgent call reporting a problem that needed my immediate attention. With no other choice I had to turn around, put plans on hold and take care of the problem that I was faced with. Three hours later and with the problem resolved, I called the EDA team to find them checking in and only minutes away from boarding the plane. I had been watching the clock as my problem had slowly resolved itself, but by the time I had made this last call to the team, I had resigned myself to the fact that there was no way I was getting on a plane and flying to Malaysia. With confirmation that the flight had been especially arranged for this trip and that there was no way that it could be extended I picked up my luggage and headed upstairs to unpack. Minutes later and unexpectedly my phone rang and upon answering I was pleasantly surprised when Mr “A” from Malaysia airlines introduced himself informing me that he could help me. Hanging up after a brief conversation I started to smile – “be at the airport for 3.30pm tomorrow with all of your documentation and I will see if we can’t get you on that flight”.
Sitting in a small fibreglass speedboat, skimming across a pond like sea heading towards Perhentian Islands (pronounced Perhen-TEE-AHN) I cannot believe that I am finally in Malaysia when the odds were so heavily stacked against me. I had done exactly what Mr “A” had said and as a result, he (Malaysian Airlines) had done everything possible to get me on that flight the next day. Not only that, he had personally made it his mission to ensure that I got on that plane. As the boat drew closer to the coral fringed islands I could see the dense forestation leading down to the shoreline where gigantic boulder like rock structures separated the forest from the shoreline. Finally, pulling up to our resort where the team had already spent one night I exited the boat and walked up the jetty toward the resort. Within 30 minutes I was in a basic but well air conditioned room and with my housing assembled, strobe batteries charged, I settled down to catch up on some much needed sleep.
The next morning and after a quick briefing at the resorts dive centre, we set of for our first of three dives, ‘Sugar Wreck’ - a ninety meter long cargo vessel which sank in two thousand and lying on her side in eighteen meters of water. As the team and I began to descend an impressive shoal of Yellowtail barracuda followed us down the side of the wreck. Unfortunately arriving at this site quite late in the morning meant that we were not the only divers to have dived this site that day and so with visibility at around 8 metres, capturing the impressive shoals of fish that inhabit this wreck was not going to be possible. Back at the resort and with a new cylinder ready on the boat, I re-hydrated and while we completed our surface interval I wondered when I would get to see the amazing rich diving environments that I had read so much about. The next dive site was to give me a taste of just what I was looking for.
Standing on the bow of the boat, peering down into the turquoise water and while looking at the large coral structures surrounded by a collage of movement I do my final kit checks and I’m ready to dive Tanjung Besi. With just a rash-vest and shorts, the water is a perfect temperature and as I descend I take in the impressive view of healthy coral broken up by the odd towering sponge. With twenty metres visibility in the distance I can see large shoals of snapper and parrotfish sweeping over the sloping mass of stag horn and table corals. Breaking up the collage of movement, swim pairs of, stunningly coloured Coral rabbitfish and Blue Ringed angelfish. Descending deeper down onto this site and as a hawksbill turtle moves off the reef disturbed by our bubbles another great shoal of parrotfish sweep up onto the reef. Losing track of time, my dive computer reminds me that its time to carry out a safety stop and as I look out over healthy coral reef from behind an anenome I think to myself – what a great view these clown fish have.
Our last dive of the day is considered one of the best dive sites around the Perhentian Islands. Terumbu Tiga or better known as Tiger Rock is a dramatic dive site boasting giant boulder formations with plenty of corals, barrel sponges and gorgonian fans. First to greet us as we descend is a hawksbill turtle who seems oblivious to the flashes of our cameras. Further into the site and looking down onto the sand a blue spotted stingray forages for food while out in the deeper water a large shoal of trevally watch and wait for us to move on. This dive site offered plenty of marine life but being late in the afternoon, visibilities were quite poor and with light fading fast the fish that we were expecting were just not there. Back in my room and with three dives down and with one and a half days of diving left on the schedule I reviewed the photographs of the day and felt a little nervous that I may not get the shots I was looking for. The next morning and it was time to leave Perhentian Island and make our way to Terengganu which would give us access to the next island that we would dive – Redang!
Leaving our mainland hotel nice and early we arrived at Merang jetty where our hosts for the day, Coral Redang Divers were waiting for us with their dive boat. We boarded the vessel and within forty-five minutes we arrived at this amazing island paradise. With clear blue skies, crystal clear water and perfectly clean coral sand we jumped off the boat and waded out of the sea onto a pristine unspoilt beach. Thirty yards in front of us was the dive centre and as we arrived, we were greeted by the centre’s dive team and made to feel very welcome. Within five minutes everyone had signed the normal dive liability paperwork and been shown where the cylinders and weights were. For the members of the team that needed equipment, they were looked after effectively and quickly and it was not long before we were all listening to our dive master, Matt Cdc, giving us our first dive brief of the day. The first dive sites name was the Tajung Tokong located on the northern tip of the island offering the promise of densely coral covered sloped reef with lots of fish. Thirty minutes later and everything that Matt had covered in his dive brief was no exaggeration. With 20 metres visibility and the early morning sunlight behind me, I descended down onto the perfect reef where I was joined by literally thousands of fish. Scattered amongst the lush green stag horn coral, Black-margin Bull’s-eye fish floated effortlessly, secure in the confines of their coral shelter while inches above, fish fed on the small particles of food floating in the current. As the team descended in the distance I watched another shoal of parrot and rabbit fish sweep over the reef, momentarily stopping and feeding on the patches of algae growing on dead coral before heading off into the distance. As they move on I turn around and bracing myself, a swarm of Yellow-banded fusiliers swarm up the side of the reef and surround me momentarily blocking my view of the other divers. As an inquisitive pair of Blue Ringed Angelfish followed me across the reef I come face to face with a large crocodile fish keeping perfectly still hoping not to be seen. As I scrutinised the gaps and crevices of this site looking for macro critters I was rewarded with a nice frogfish and mantis shrimp encounter. Slowly as the topography of the reef changed, massive boulders replaced the gently sloping reef creating a perfect environment for gorgonian corals. With the current picking up I found myself kneeling behind a towering bolder staring at a small shoal of Royal Damsels taking refuge around a perfect yellow and orange fan coral. Moving around the boulder and with the dive coming to an end I spend my last minute at 18 metres photographing a densely packed shoal of cave sweepers darting amongst an array of different coloured fan corals. Grabbing as many photographs as I can my dive computer finally sounds the alert and it’s time to ascend. At the surface everyone has a look of excitement on their face and as our boat sped back to the dive centre, we all exchanged our experiences of this amazing dive.
With new cylinders hooked up and our surface interval complete, Matt proceeded to tell us what to expect on our next dive. As the boat pulled up to Steven’s Stone, a dive site made up out of four small reefs surrounded by sand, Matt jumped in, did a quick current check and signalled that all was fine. As we all entered the water and descended down onto the sandy bottom I could see that over the last ninety minutes visibilities had deteriorated slightly turning the water slightly milky. Although this was quite a small dive site, Matt’s decision to bring us to this reef was because on each of the small coral covered pinnacles were many different types of fish all competing for space. On one of these special pinnacles, busy Percula clown fish worked hard to protect their host while all around, a shoal of Ring-tail Cardinal fish competed for shelter from the relatively strong current. On another of the pinnacles, a pair of Sebae clown fish looked slightly more relaxed as they rest on their giant large carpet anenome observing a shoal of Moluccen Snapper. Scattered around on the sand lay blue spotted stingrays while around the base of the reefs, moray eels looked out of their crevices. Back on the boat and the team again congratulate Matt on his choice of dive site. Motivated by the appreciation of the EDA team, Matt announces that for our final dive of the day, he is going to introduce us to the stingrays of Redang on Paku Kecil.
Feeling slightly tired I lifted my BCD with new cylinder up onto the boat and boarded, ready for this last dive. Dropping down onto this site was more spectacular than the other dives of the day. Slowly descending down onto the reef at eight metres and it is difficult to see the other members of the team as there are thousands of Green Chromis feeding in the current. Moving away from the reef and leaving the massive shoal of fish behind I join the team and we slowly set off in search of the stingrays of Redang. Looking onto the reef I see a large shoal of mono’s sheltering alongside batfish and squirrelfish in the shade of a giant boulder and as I approach to photograph them they disperse and disappear amongst the reef. Continuously keeping an eye on the sand for the rays I search for interesting things to photograph and as I lead the group I come face to face with a large hawksbill turtle grazing on a patch of soft coral. With the group still with the turtle I head on and it is not long before I come face to face with two very large Jenkins Whip rays. As I approach, my bubbles disrupts one of them making it swim aggressively around the area before settling down again. Thinking better of it, I choose to approach the more settled of the two rays and amazingly as I photograph it the curious ray nudges slowly towards me until the tip of it’s nose touched the dome port of my camera. Face to face with this marvelous gentle creature I think of Matt’s confident promise of a special encounter and as I think about the days diving I wonder whether my camera holds the evidence I need to support my article.
Back at the dive centre and with my equipment all packed away, I thank Matt and the rest of the Coral Redang Diver team and mention that I would love to return and spend more time diving their world class dive sites. As the boat returned to Terengganu I thought how the Coral Redang Divers team had done everything they could to provide an amazing diving experience. The whole team were friendly, all spoke excellent English, the equipment was all well maintained and most importantly for me, they had plenty of 15 litre cylinders.
Three day’s later and sitting in Kuala Lumpur airport, getting ready to return to Dubai I take another glance over the photographs taken during the seven dives (three hundred and fifteen minutes of bottom time) and I am fairly satisfied with the results. I made the right decision to stick with shooting with a mid-range lens and with favourable visibilities my nikkor 17-55 DX lens had been versatile enough to capture all of the images in this article. In reflection, with the odds so heavily stacked against me, diving in Malaysia may have been a whirlwind experience, but every dive provided me with two or three great publishable photographs and memories that I will never forget.
Will I return to do more diving in Malaysia? Most definitely – in my opinion Redang Island is a stunning place to go on vacation offering laid back diving on healthy coral reefs with a lot of stunning marine life.
I would like to say a big thank you to Mr “A” of Malaysian airlines – without his amazing customer service and support I would never have been able to dive in Malaysia. A big thank you to all of the team at Malaysian Tourism both in Dubai and Malaysia for making my stay a special one. Finally, a very big thank you to Matt Cdc at Coral Redang Divers for recognising our needs and giving me one of the best diving experiences ever.